Why it's nice to be niche at Geneva
EVERYWHERE you look on the stands, the massive variety of cars makes it clear motoring has taken a major turn. Welcome to the era of the niche, a time when customers want cars that are intrinsically different.
Sure, they still want their saloons, hatchbacks and estates, their hybrids, electrics and exotic. But the real growth – some would say the future – is in the crossovers, off-beat, quirky.
Call them cars with personalities or motors with attitude but the big growth segments across Europe, whose total market is in serious decline, are those encompassing SUV/crossovers, distinctive urban vehicles, based on existing cars.
And so automakers are packing their production schedules with niche cars to grab market share and boost under-pressure profits.
Of course there are the curious concepts and the outrageously costly super-luxury niche models a la the Rolls-Royce Wraith and supercars from Ferrari and McLaren.
Much less expensive, and far more important for buyer and seller are small SUV/crossovers such as the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur.
But despite all that, Audi believes the small saloon will make a comeback over the next few years.
Here's an outline of what's on show
Its 4C two-seat sports car with rear-wheel-drive was shown as a concept at Geneva two years ago. Limited run of 2,500 a year.
Audi is showing a gas-powered A3 that just might herald carbon-neutral motoring thanks to revolutionary technology.
It also shows its plug-in A3 hybrid (A3 e-tron) which goes on sale next year. At the other end of the spectrum are performance RS Q3s (yes it is a crossover) with its 310bhp, 2.5-litre, 5cyl petrol engine. Also debuting is the niche S3 Sportback 5dr hatchback.
Bentley's Flying Spur 4dr saloon has a 6-litre, twin turbocharged W-12 engine (a mere 616bhp).
The 3-series GT takes the limelight as a major alternative in the range.
It gets here in June and is BMW's first model to have an active rear spoiler that extends automatically at 110kmh.
Also on view are coupe concepts of its i3 and i8 electric cars, and an M6 version of the Gran Coupe.
Sadly they decided not to sell cars here this year because of the grim economic outlook. They have a convertible version of the Corvette Stingray coupe and a face-lifted Captiva SUV.
A glimpse of the next C4 Picasso (later in the year) emanates from the Technospace concept. The five-seater is a tad shorter and lower than the current C4 Picasso but its longer wheelbase provides for interior room.
They will use the Technospace as the basis for the bigger seven-seat Grand C4 Picasso. Also on show is the facelifted C3 supermini which gets here in the summer and PSA's new HYbrid Air technology.
Dacia is showing off its Logan MCV estate as well as a face-lifted Duster SUV. The Logan has seven seats.
Sold out before it even appears, the Enzo successor, F150, debuts with a mere 499 to be built. Now there's niche for you. The new V12 engine pumps out more than 900bhp.
Fiat's 'SUV-like' 500L Trekking has higher ground clearance, bigger wheels and more rugged looks and makes its European debut.
Its EcoSport small SUV/Crossover is an excellent example of just what is happening in the market. There is huge demand for this sort of car with customers wanting high-riding motors rather than saloons. It gets here late this year. Ford is also showing its Tourneo Courier 'people mover'.
Its Civic estate at the show goes into production early next year.
Its seven-seat Grand Santa Fe SUV and i35 variants marks another expansion.
Kia has a lineup of 3dr cee'd compact, the pro_cee'd, and the cee'd GT, as well as its provo concept.
Famed maker is showing its 'street-legal' Veneno supercar. They're only going to sell three. They will cost around €3m.
Making a lot of the nine-speed automatic transmission in its Range Rover Evoque. This will replace current 6spd box on AWD versions of the Evoque.
Also an electric Defender (94bhp) linked to lithium-ion battery on show. Range of 80km but built only for trials.
European debut for its new, full hybrid IS 300h.
A world debut for the new four-seater GranTurismo MC Stradale.
Million-euro, massively powerful (903bhp) McLaren P1 model debuts with mid-mounted 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 and electric motor. Just building 375 of them.
Their A45 AMG will mean super performance (2-litre, 360bhp) for this version of their A-Class.
Their CA-MiEV concept is regarded as a showcase of the sort of tech that will get electric cars a range of up to 300km.
They are also showing the GR-HEV concept – a diesel hybrid SUV/pickup. And of course the new Outlander plug-in hybrid is there as well.
The Note represents its biggest debut and is due here late this year, early next. Also there is a revamped version of the electric Leaf with a 200km range.
The Adam Rocks concept shows what a competitor to the Fiat 500C convertible might look like. It is based on the Adam hatchback but with SUV looks and fabric sunroof. Also out there is the Cascada mid-sized convertible.
The fifth generation of the 911 GT3 makes its debut. It's got a purpose-built normally-aspirated 3.8-litre flat-six engine that develops 475bhp. Goes from 0 to 100kmh in 3.5 seconds but won't have a manual gearbox.
The big one is – a niche motor. The 2008 SUV-like crossover aims to tap into customer preferences. Here by autumn to compete with Nissan Juke and MINI Countryman. Also on show is the HYbrid Air technology (from the PSA Citroen/Peugeot stable) that cuts fuel consumption. The 208 GTi and 208 XY hatches are also eye catchers.
It might come here. The Chinese brand is still looking at the possibility but meanwhile shows off its GQ3 mid-size saloon.
And another niche . . . Renault's Captur, based on the new Clio is expected to sell well to meet market demand for SUV/Crossover vehicles. Also debuting is the Scenic XMOD, again with more than a hint of SUV-styling.
Highlights the Wraith, a coupe version of Rolls' Ghost 4dr saloon.
Shows its sporty Leon SC as it puts on a huge push for sales.
Its Octavia estate is 90mm longer and 45mm wider and has a 110mm longer wheelbase making it a huge people and luggage carrier. Here in the summer.
The FT-86 Open concept will translate into metal. The convertible version of the GT86 will be eagerly awaited. It has the same dimensions and 2-litre Boxer engine as the coupe. The Auris Touring Sports estate is also on show as is the RAV4, and some dramatic possible future versions. The new RAV4 is being unveiled by dealers here soon with prices starting under €29,000. The marque's i-ROAD personal mobility vehicle (PMV) also makes its world debut. It seats two in tandem and has a range of up to 50km on a single charge.
As we said last week Volkswagen shows a production version of the XL1 plug-in hybrid two-seater. Also out there are the new Golf GTI and GTD as well as a fuel-sipping BlueMotion version, an estate and plug-in hybrid.